Internet of Things (IoT) devices are integral components of many modern businesses. In 2020, there were almost 9 billion active IoT devices—that number is predicted to exceed 25 billion by 2030. Effectively deploying, monitoring, and managing all of these devices in an enterprise environment requires powerful, centralized orchestration using an IoT device management system. This post discusses the best practices and key considerations to keep in mind when planning, designing, and building your IoT device management system.
What is an IoT device management system?
An IoT device management system provides a unified platform from which to manage all of the IoT devices in use by an organization. Many of these devices operate with little-to-no human interaction, in remote sites that may be difficult or even dangerous to access for routine maintenance. For example, IoT sensors are used inside oil pipelines to monitor crucial metrics like flow, pressure, and temperature. In addition, one organization may need to employ dozens or hundreds of different IoT devices to handle specific functions. These devices often come from different vendors, with separate management platforms, patch schedules, and configuration schemes. This results in a lot of management complexity for the IT teams responsible for provisioning, maintaining, and troubleshooting all of these devices, creating the need for an IoT device management system. The goal of such a solution is to bring all of the tasks involved in IoT device management under one roof, including:
→ Onboarding: Bringing new IoT devices onto the network with the proper credentials and security policies
- → Configuration: Provisioning new IoT devices with the necessary settings
- → Maintenance: Updating firmware and applying security patches in a timely manner
- → Security: Applying enterprise security policies to all IoT devices on the network
- → Diagnostics: Collecting and analyzing logs to help identify and fix IoT device issues
- → End-of-life management: Decommissioning EOL devices so they don’t create a security risk by remaining online and unpatched
Best practices for building an IoT device management system
Here are some best practices and key considerations to keep in mind when planning, designing, and building your IoT device management system.
Avoid closed ecosystems
There are off-the-shelf software solutions for IoT device management that are designed to work within a single vendor’s ecosystem. While they may offer some support for third-party devices, they generally work best if you’re already operating within that vendor’s environment. For example, AWS IoT Device Management works with third-party IoT devices but requires an existing AWS infrastructure to use it effectively. These types of solutions will usually include a library of features and supported integrations, but you may not be able to integrate your preferred scripting languages, open-source tools, or other third-party components. A vendor-neutral, or vendor-agnostic, IoT device management system does not suffer from these limitations. In addition to the ability to hook into multi-vendor IoT devices, these platforms also allow you to use your choice of third-party software and scripts. A vendor-neutral solution gives you the freedom to build a truly bespoke IoT device management system that makes use of your team’s existing skills, preferred tools, and custom innovations.
Ensure 24/7 remote management access
One of the benefits of IoT devices is they can be deployed anywhere. However, maintaining continuous access to devices in remote and hard-to-reach environments can prove challenging. Natural disasters, LAN failures, ISP outages, political instability, and global pandemics can all occur with little-to-no warning, leaving organizations cut off from their critical remote IoT devices and infrastructure. Out-of-band (OOB) management solves this problem by providing an alternative path to remote network infrastructure. For example, an IoT device management system can use OOB serial consoles to create a management network that’s dedicated to the orchestration, maintenance, and troubleshooting of production network equipment. These serial consoles have multiple redundant network interfaces (e.g., 5G cellular, Fiber, and Wi-Fi) so admins can remotely access the IoT device management system even when the remote site loses its main internet connection. This ensures that organizations can recover from remote network failures faster, continue internal operations during ISP outages, and maintain continuous access to their IoT devices.
Protect IoT infrastructure with Zero Trust Security
IoT device management systems help ensure the security of remote IoT devices by simplifying tasks like firmware updates and vulnerability patch deployment. However, the IoT device management platform itself is a potential target for malicious actors hoping to gain complete control over an organization’s IoT infrastructure. That’s why organizations must protect their IoT device management system using Zero Trust Security. Zero Trust Security follows the principle of “never trust, always verify” by requiring all users, systems, and devices to continuously prove their trustworthiness as they access the network and enterprise resources. It also requires the consistent application of enterprise security policies and controls to every system and application that connects to the network, including the IoT device management system. That means, for example, that you should use technology such as two-factor authentication (2FA) and identity and access management (IAM) to control access and prevent compromised accounts from gaining control.
- ☆ Bonus tip: Zero Trust Security is easier to apply if you use a vendor-neutral IoT device management system that supports integrations with third-party security solutions like next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). This will also ensure that Zero Trust controls are in place to protect the OOB management network from unauthorized access.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that there’s currently no way to completely prevent a breach from occurring. According to the Sophos State of Ransomware 2022 survey, 66% of organizations were hit by ransomware in 2021 alone, and that number is only expected to trend upwards over time. That’s why another critical aspect of Zero Trust Security for IoT device management is building a resilient network architecture with automation tools that reduce the MTTR (mean time to recovery) when—and not if—a breach occurs. Learn more about how to implement such an architecture with ZPE’s network automation blueprint.
Building an IoT device management system with Nodegrid
An IoT device management system is meant to simplify and streamline the management of remote, hard-to-reach, and complex IoT devices and infrastructure. Vendor-neutral systems allow you to customize your platform with the third-party tools and solutions that work best for your team and your organization’s use case. Out-of-band (OOB) management ensures that IT teams have reliable, 24/7 access to remote IoT systems. Finally, Zero Trust Security protects the IoT device management system and all connected devices from malicious attacks. The Nodegrid platform from ZPE Systems is a completely vendor-agnostic IoT device management system supported by Gen 3 OOB serial consoles like the Nodegrid Serial Console Plus (NSCP) and all-in-one edge gateway routers like the Mini Services Router (MSR). Nodegrid supports integrations with your choice of custom scripts, automation tools, and security solutions so you can build a bespoke IoT device management system that addresses your organization’s unique challenges and use cases.
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